As a plucky grad student, I walked in the door ready to negotiate with a department that needed my labor.

I think enough time has passed that I can tell this story.

When I was a PhD student at the University of Toronto in the mid 1990s, the department asked me to sit through a week of undergrad presentations and proctor a final exam for my advisor, who needed to take a brief medical leave.

I made a cup of tea for an afternoon of marking, tallied up and posted the final grades, and got some work-study money for my trouble.

When I checked in with my advisor by phone, he mentioned he wasn’t going to return for the next semester.

This was apparently news to the department.

The professor who was administering the undergraduate program (I forget his actual title, but I’ll call him the dean) asked if I’d be willing take over the second semester of this year-long class, and asked me to drop by his office to discuss it tomorrow.

That evening, I looked over the syllabus (which my advisor had already prepared), estimated how many hours I thought it would take me to prep and teach the class, and came up with what I thought was a fair stipend.

When I walked into the office, the dean got right to the point.

“I can pay you X,” he said, naming a figure that was *three times* what I was about to request. 

I must have looked shocked, because before I could speak, the dean immediately offered *four* times the magic number.

I tried to make my shoulders sag, and sank down into a chair. “I did end up having to mark a whole stack of term papers,” I said, doing my best to sound disappointed.

The dean upped his offer to *five* times the magic number. “But that’s as high as I can go.”

I held the contract in my hand for a long time before I heaved a big sigh, uncapped a pen, and signed on the dotted line. 

I should point out that even five times what I was going to ask for did not make me rich; but the unexpected extra income meant I didn’t just treat the class as another side hustle for meeting my basic living expenses. That term I cut back on my writing center tutoring and my HTML consulting, so the undergrads got more of my focused attention, and I got valuable experience to add to my teaching resume.

The university paid me a professional stipend, and the students got more than a warm body handing out worksheets.

Most important, I learned not to undervalue myself.